When a student with disability finishes high school, it is often a difficult life adjustment
At a time when other young men and women are cutting loose their ties to mum and dad, and leaving home to start independent lives as young adults, a person with disability may find themselves at home, stuck in a rut.
One of the most valued destinations for their school friends will be going to university or TAFE. Other peers may take on apprenticeships or enter the workforce.
It is not uncommon for the young person with disability to become lonely, isolated and depressed, having lost their valued role in society, as well as losing a wide circle of school friends and the security of a daily routine where planned activities filled their day in meaningful ways.
A working mum or dad might have to give up their job, or else continue as a working carer, struggling to find responsive and suitable support services for their son or daughter. This may well put an incredible extra strain on their work life, as they fight to maintain some sort of work-life balance.
One organisation that has pioneered a novel approach to this dilemma is Sydney University.
A program at the University is giving young people with intellectual disability the opportunity to experience life as a uni student.
The Uni 2 Beyond program supports students with disability to study on campus, matching them with both an academic and a social mentor.
They don’t get a degree at the end of the program, but they do get the chance to study courses of their choosing and participate in all aspects of campus life.
The students and their families report increased confidence, independence and self-esteem after participating in the program. The students get to live a valued social role as a university student and are able to see that they have a future ahead of them that is no longer separated from other students of the same age.
Mentors support participants by helping them to join university clubs, having lunch or coffee together and other social activities outside the university, such as meeting their mentors’ parents and going to parties.
It’s not all easy for program participants. Some face challenges getting to and from the uni, or finding their way around the big campus grounds, or navigating an environment of high expectations. Adjusting to life after the program can also be difficult, too, but having to face these challenges contributes to much of the success of the program.
The idea behind the program came from the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, where the government financially supports full inclusion initiatives in all higher education facilities.
So far, the program at Sydney University has supported 32 people since it began in 2012 and the initiative is ongoing.
People with intellectual disability who have a passion for learning and want to contribute to all aspects of university life – social and academic – are now being considered for 2017.
You can read more about Uni 2 Beyond program via the Centre for Disability Studies at Sydney University http://cds.org.au/uni-2-beyond/
Meanwhile, if you live in a university town and have a son or daughter with disability who might enjoy a taste of university life, consider speaking to the disability officer at your local university to see whether they would be willing to give your child the chance to do a course on a similar basis to what Sydney University is offering.